Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium): Lewis Hamilton has reasons to be cheerful as Formula One (F1) regroups here in Belgium with plenty of developments to digest after an August break punctuated by headline-grabbing moves and announcements.
Spa has been good to the Mercedes man in recent years and last season the Briton took a record pole position before celebrating a win that set him on a run of success that culminated in a fourth title.
This time he returns here with a 24-point lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, compared to a 14-point deficit last time around. Even if the weekend turns out to be cold and wet, Hamilton’s spirits are unlikely to be dampened after a refreshing few weeks away.
“The second half (of the season) is always exciting, it’s always intense, particularly when we go to the long hauls,” Hamilton said in a release. “The second half is usually … it gets a bit better on our side,” he added.
With nine races to go, the championship could still swing either way and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is making no predictions.
“If this season has taught us one thing, it’s that there are no clear favourites for specific tracks anymore and that it’s not always the fastest car that wins,” he said in a team preview for Sunday’s race.
Ferrari will also fancy their chances, with their car showing plenty of pace and Kimi Raikkonen standing on the brink of a milestone 100th podium after finishing in the top three in his last five races.
The 38-year-old Finn is a four-time winner here, including Ferrari’s most recent victory at the long, sweeping high-speed circuit that represents one of the greatest challenges for any racing driver.
Raikkonen’s future is also in the spotlight after a summer flurry of driver moves, including double World Champion Fernando Alonso’s decision to leave F1 at the end of the year.
Sauber’s rookie Charles Leclerc is strongly tipped to step up to Ferrari but Raikkonen could still find a home elsewhere.